Article from Slate concerning personalization of Google Maps: “My Map or Yours?”

28 May

“Google’s plan to personalize maps could end public space as we know it.”

Interesting article on Slate offers a critique of the personalization of Google Maps,  arguing that public space will suffer when Google rolls out its next update where “the maps we see will be dynamically generated and highly personalized, giving preferential treatment to the places frequented by our social networking friends, the places we mention in our emails, the sites we look up on the search engine”. I’ve pulled some excerpts out, but find the whole article  here, on Slate

…Back in 1970, cultural critic Richard Sennett wrote a wonderful little book—The Users of Disorder—that all Google engineers should read. In it, Sennett made a strong case for “dense, disorderly, overwhelming cities,” where strangers from very different socio-economic backgrounds still rub shoulders. Sennett’s ideal city is not just an agglomeration of ghettos and gated communities whose residents never talk to one another; rather, it’s the mutual entanglement between the two—and the occasionally mess that such entanglements introduce into our daily life—that makes it an interesting place to live in and allows its inhabitants to turn into mature and complex human beings.

Google’s urbanism, on the other hand, is that of someone who is trying to get to a shopping mall in their self-driving car. It’s profoundly utilitarian, even selfish in character, with little to no concern for how public space is experienced. In Google’s world, public space is just something that stands between your house and the well-reviewed restaurant that you are dying to get to. Since no one formally reviews public space or mentions it in their emails, it might as well disappear from Google’s highly personalized maps. And if the promotional videos for Google Glass are anything to judge by, we might not even notice it’s gone: For all we know, we might be walking through an urban desert, but Google Glass will still make it look exciting, masking the blighted reality.

The main reason to celebrate maps that aren’t personalized has nothing to do with technophobia or nostalgia about the pre-Google days. It’s quite simple, really: When you and I look at the same map, there’s a good chance that we might strike a conversation about how to enrich the space that the map represents—perhaps plant more trees or build a sidewalk or install some benches. That our experience of what used to be public space is getting increasingly privatized—first with smartphones, then with Google Glass and self-driving cars. True, cars are already something of a private space, but if the driver essentially becomes a passenger, she will pay even less attention to the outside environment. You can’t watch. That all of this is done in the name of “organizing the world’s information” should worry anyone concerned with the future of urbanism.”

– Article by |Posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 7:00 AM. the whole article  here, on Slate

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